Changes in state law this year will leave homeowners with no way to stop telecommunications companies from putting large towers and equipment in their front yards, Overland Park council members said Monday.
Council members expressed concerns about a new Kansas law that limits their ability to regulate cell phone equipment in city right-of-ways. The law gives companies the right to put their equipment in rights-of-way with few restrictions. As a result, Overland Park and cities across the state will have to revise their rules and will lose much of their control over how the towers look and where they can be, council members said.
Some council members objected to the way the bill was handled, saying there was no discussion with city leaders before it was passed.
“This is not what the city would like to do. This is what the legislature decided we get to do,” said Council member Curt Skoog. “This is going to affect our residents down the way as people who haven’t had access to city right-of-way now have access with limited controls by the city,” he said.
Mayor Carl Gerlach added that the new law allows, for example, a 120-foot tower to be put in a right-of-way, which is typically the first 10 feet between the street and the front yard.
Council member Paul Lyons agreed, saying, “(The legislation) basically opened up Pandora’s box, letting them put anything in anywhere. That’s where the legislation is defective,” he said.
Others also worried that the law doesn’t give homeowners a clear way to oppose equipment when it affects their property. The city can accept complaints about the equipment, but there’s no apparent way to appeal, Gerlach said.
The city ordinance was intended to keep Overland Park in line with changes the Kansas Legislature approved this spring. The final version of what had been House Bill 2131 put more limits on the ability of cities to regulate communications equipment in city rights-of-way. The law takes affect Oct. 1.
The law was written to promote the building of cell towers and antennae with few delays and provide widespread access to broadband. In the process, Overland Park will lose some restrictions it has been able to require in the past, city council members said.
For instance, the city can no longer require providers to share a tower, which had been a way for the city to keep the number of towers in a right-of-way to a minimum. And the duration of the special use permit for the equipment has been doubled to 10 years from the current 5.
The council tried to keep what restrictions it could, even though they are few, Gerlach said. Rules about the height of towers matching street light heights remain, as does a requirement that tower poles be designed to break away in a traffic accident.
At an earlier meeting, Lyons called the new law “outrageous.”
“I just find this whole thing distasteful,” he said. “The real answer here is the legislature needs to go back and revisit this and essentially undo this nonsense.”
The council authorized the issue of $17.5 million in revenue bonds to help developers build The Vue redevelopment in downtown Overland Park. The bonds, which were approved earlier, allow developer Hunt Midwest to get a sales tax exemption on construction equipment and furnishings.
The project, on 2.5 acres on the southeast corner of 80th and Marty streets, will include luxury apartments and retail and will be a major change in the look of the city’s downtown.